As the 2016 election prepares for its final days (at last), the conservative is compelled to ask this question: where do we go from here?
For conservatives, the end, the telos, or the objective is not an electoral outcome. It shall not be counted a victory should Donald Trump prevail over Hillary Clinton, but rather, for most conservatives, a lukewarm disappointment. There will be no cause for celebration on election night.
Conservatives for years were welcomed warmly into the ideologically diverse abode that was the Republican Party. But this house is now divided against itself. The conservative, who views the world as a dramatic stage wherein the protagonist humans are participants in a cosmic battle for each individual heart, and who applies to the world a transcendent truth informed by an objective Lawgiver, has uneasy quarters among the sloganeers, the bombastic, the indifferent, and the centralizers.
“The annals of conservatism were once decorated with portraits of a profound intellectual system, but as they stretched into the future, they became vandalized with the graffiti of sloganeers and profiteers drawing their message in bright red, for all eyes to see and all ears to hear.”
The conservative favors locality: he happily permits the proliferation of variety among a diverse population. He disdains efforts to concentrate social, political, or cultural power into one grand ocean from which several channels run, each bringing with it bitter waters that sting the palate of unique populations.
The conservative believes strongly that a society characterized by hierarchy and order best promotes human flourishing, and that the preservation of property rights is indispensable to an ordered liberty. He believes humans cannot be minimized to abstract mathematical models. He believes that not all change constitutes progress. And he believes in manners and the gentleman.
So where is the conservative to go? Or better yet, where has the conservative gone?
The last year has been a parade of arrogance, anger, shouting, and accusation. A cloud of uneasiness weighs on the conservative’s heart regardless of the outcome this November 8th. Why have Christians been eager to elevate an amoral man, to mislead others about him, and to virulently attack and ridicule any form of dissent they encounter? Why have “conservatives,” (and I use that word loosely) disregarded the fundamental tenets that accompany their disposition?
One of the most unique features of the conservative is that his political views are emanations of certain presuppositions; he does not express natural political inclinations and from there develop the rest of his self. Rather, he practices the conservative disposition, which shapes his outward interaction with others and which informs his subsequent political beliefs.
In important ways, being conservative is not an ideology; it is a mindset that operates independently of politics and for which politics is an unfortunate but necessary endeavor.
Thus, the conservative man does not participate in the primacy of politics; he is concerned with his soul and the soul of his community, which is an aggregate of souls past, present, and future; and he has a responsibility to establish a nursing home for benevolence past and a nursery for good will future.
Perhaps it is better to ask, ‘Why do we go from here, and who do we take with us?'”
For too long, the conservative mind has mutated into an utterly political beast. It has been poisoned with transfusions of mockery, haughtiness, supremacy, and ambition. To rehabilitate it would require steady doses of humility, manners, and charity.
Perhaps asking, “Where do we go from here?” is the wrong question. Perhaps it is better to ask, “Why do we go from here, and who do we take with us?”
This last year has unearthed grotesque corpses: accusations from “conservative” to conservative that one or the other is actively supporting partial birth abortion; utter condescension and moral pretension; divisive tongues. Unfortunately, the terrain of conservatism is littered with these remains, and their stench chokes any sober-minded observer surveying the land.
“The wine of power intoxicated us despite that we always accused progressives of being the drunkards.”
Have we disregarded the fundamental teachings of our faith, which informs our politics, and not vice versa? Our tongues are like hot irons; our hearts are hardened by crime and corruption, which our mouths go on to justify and excuse; our souls are traded for a few temporal gains.
Toward what end?
For the conservative, this used to be an easy question; this is not so any longer. The annals of conservatism were once decorated with portraits of a profound intellectual system, but as it stretched into the future, it became vandalized with the graffiti of sloganeers and profiteers drawing their message in bright red, for all eyes to see and all ears to hear. And intricacy and even-mindedness are the first sacrifices at the altar of political fame.
I don’t mean to strike a melodramatic tone: I earnestly regret the regress that the philosophical organism that was conservatism has suffered. Perhaps democracy on a massive scale could never sustain conservatism in its pure form; the human tendency to centralize and then compete for domination over the central organ was too great. The current of progressive nationalization swept away all citizens, but I never expected for conservatives to ride speedily in the waves, chanting the songs of the river god.
The conservative used to stand athwart history yelling, “Stop,” but he now saddles history and digs his obnoxious spurs into its sides so that it sprints blindly forward, and he mistakes each step as progress.
There are few solutions for the present dilemma. We operate on too large a scale and too central a government to institute meaningful conservative reforms that restore local prerogative, religiosity, and manners. The wine of power intoxicated us despite that we always accused progressives of being the drunkards.
So where do we go from here?
Sober conservative minds must honestly evaluate whether American politics can house them, or whether it has grown too unsanitary to sustain healthy dispositions. Hope is a virtue, but hope is not found it political solutions. It rests atop a hill to be climbed in the face of rigors, and at the moment, the muddy base of the hill houses the vast majority of American politicos.